Time is running out

In the background there is a nagging feeling that time is running out for us. We spend all our time trying to satisfy everyone else's demands and rarely satisfying our own.

I keep thinking about demands on my time and who makes them. Of course those demands usually conflict and I find myself trying to find a way to balance these competing demands and answer the ones that matter most.

When we build our lives around ‘what’s due’ we sacrifice our agency to the priorities and urgencies of everyone else.

Seth Godin’s recent post titled “Missed it by that much” speaks to these kinds of challenges and how we can forget that time is running out for us to do things that matter most.

We sometimes like to think that we control our destinies and decide our fates but how often is that actually the case? We have the illusion of choice within shrinking parameters we don’t create. Where does that leave us? Probably not where we think we are, at all.

Time is running out for you to become the person you’ve decided to be, to make the difference you seek to make, to produce the work you know you’re capable of.

In the background there is a nagging feeling that time is running out for us. We spend all our time trying to satisfy everyone else’s demands (probably motivated by what they want to achieve given the time available to them) and rarely satisfying our own.

That is, assuming we even know what we most want to do with the limited time we have available in this life.

Perhaps, as we get a clearer sense of what we most want to do (even if it is just today, this week or this year) one way to reconcile all these seemingly incompatible tugs is to find work that others need and will compensate us for in ways that we can meet others’ needs.

It sounds a bit obvious but our model for employment tends to emphasize employers’ needs over employees’. The result tends to be a lot of people doing work they don’t particularly enjoy, largely in the hope that they have enough time off to do the things that matter most before they die.

It’s a little crazy, when you think about it. All that time we spend waiting for the few moments we really want to get to and then we are so often too exhausted or frustrated to enjoy them or make them as meaningful as we’d intended.

What might help is if there was a closer collaboration between employers and their employees to find ways employees could draw on their passions and make more distinctive and sustainable contributions. It’s probably a bit of a fantasy because it requires everyone’s expectations to sync and they rarely do.

Conventional wisdom is divided on what to do. Either you need to just find a decent job with a decent salary and live for the weekends (and hope there are more of them than not) or you should pursue your passion and wait for the money to follow.

The first option is pretty depressing, albeit practical. I also wonder how much it tends to shorten lives simply because of the layers and layers of sadness and the growing sense that you are wasting your potential to make a better contribution to this world before you pass on from it.

The second option sounds great. It appeals to our desire to find fulfillment and joy in our day jobs that feeds our souls and make our lives that much more meaningful. The trouble with this approach is that there aren’t any clear guidelines for how to trigger the cashflow and you still have bills to pay, mouths to feed, that sort of thing.

So, that leaves us walking a bit of a metaphorical tight-rope where we seek the answer to the question “What is most meaningful in this life?” while earning a salary; trying to figure out to merge the two and do all the other stuff that counts.

While all of that is happening, time is running out.

Image credit: Foto-Rabe

Your calling and meaningful work

Do you do meaningful work? Do you feel you have found your calling or have you made the work you do important? Sometimes it's more about how you approach your work.

Today is a challenging day for me. I’ve been thinking about doing the sort of work that enables me to make an impact by doing meaningful work, lately, so I really enjoyed Seth Godin’s post titled “Calling your finding” this morning. I really like this line:

When what you do is something that you make important, it doesn’t matter so much what you do.

It may be the stage of life that I’m in at the moment but the more I think about the kind of work I want to do, status and wealth are less important to me (well, except as a form of security for our future). Instead, I am more drawn to doing meaningful work that has a constructive impact.

It isn’t necessarily that some mystical event connected you to your Life’s Purpose. Sometimes it’s more about how you do the seemingly ordinary work you have been tasked with too. As Godin puts it:

It’s not that important where. It matters a lot how. With passion and care.

I find myself thinking back to my short time with iCommons around 2007 and 2008 and long for days when I was pretty focused on open licensing, open business and open access to information (even if it was in my limited role). The work organisations like Creative Commons does feels meaningful to me and I think I will always see my involvement in those organisations as some of the most meaningful work I have done so far.

Godin’s post is a short post (as many of his are) but read the whole thing anyway.

Image credit: Designers Pics

You’re miserable because you’re not writing

If you are a writer you need to write. If you are miserable, you are probably not writing and the only solution is to return to your writing and just write something.

Perhaps you are miserable because you’re not writing? Stacey experienced that and really nails what it is like to be a writer sometimes in her post titled “All I’ve ever wanted to do with my life is write”.

All I’ve ever wanted to do with my life…

She expresses how I have felt when I was not writing as much as I would have liked to or when I wasn’t writing the stuff that I needed to write.

I went through a phase last year when the work I was doing was pretty repetitive and not in the least bit challenging. It felt a lot like this:

I’m a writer who doesn’t have the time to write anymore.It makes me miserable, and frustrated and a bit lost. My North Star has winked out.

One of my conclusions about that time turned out to be one of the reasons I started writing much more for myself here and is nicely expressed by Stacey’s advice to herself:

You’re miserable because you’re not writing anymore, Stacey. Write more, dammit.

When I feel adrift, I usually turn to writing because it unblocks the dam of emotion that has built up. It’s a lot like unblocking a drain that you’ve neglected for too long.

At first it is a struggle just to dig out enough muck to reach the blockage itself. Then, when you dig some more, you see all the gunk ooze through and it isn’t pretty. Soon enough, though, that all gives way to a wonderful flow that you don’t want to stop so you keep writing to keep the pipes clear and fresh water flowing.

A side note about “content marketing”

Writing isn’t just mechanically putting some text on a page, at least not for me. It is very much a creative process. I sometimes encounter an attitude about content marketing that disturbs me. It is this idea that you can just pick a topic, throw some words on a page and give it a list-based title and call that “content”.

Well, sure, you can do that and many “content marketers” do that all the time but the result is hollow and formulaic text that may as well be created by a machine (and, one day soon, will be).

As important as it is to write with a voice appropriate to what you are trying to achieve, I don’t think you can write well if you don’t infuse that writing with a little of your voice, your perspective on the world and your passion for writing.

This is how I see the difference between boilerplate marketing “content” and writing that adds something meaningful to whatever I am reading or for and, perhaps, a response to this question:

Do fewer people trust bloggers?

Image credit: Pixabay

“If you’re not proud of it, don’t serve it”

If you're not proud of your work, it probably isn't meaningful work worth doing.

I’ve been thinking about these themes lately:

If you’re not proud of it, don’t serve it.

If you can’t do a good job, don’t take it on.

If it’s going to distract you from the work that truly matters, pass.

They remind me of some advice I received from Bernard Hotz, a South African lawyer I worked for many years ago. He said you should never compromise yourself, certainly not for a client. That advice has particular significance in legal practice but it’s good advice in general.

With everything being so interconnected, your work speaks for you “out there” and if you consistently deliver work you are not proud of, you are compromising yourself. It could be for a client, for money or for some other short term reward.

The question to ask yourself is whether those compromises are worth it, really?

Source: Seth Godin’s post titled “On saying “no”

You can’t do great work until you love what you do

Om Malik published a short reminder of one of the many great quotes from the late Steve Jobs:

The only way to do great work is to love what you do

It reminds of the idea that doing the work you love is the path to meaning and fulfillment.

Thanks Om!

Meaningless digital notes

Are words meaningless when they are digital? Words without meaning & the reality of networked communication:

For instance, today is the birthday of one of my dear friends and I sent her an email and followed up with a text message exchange. Another friend in India, got a Skype call. To others I sit down and write a note, expressing my gratitude for their presence in my life, or even buying me a cup of coffee.

Earlier this week was my nephew’s birthday, and I woke up the kid while I was in Portugal to wish him. We didn’t exchange more than ten words, but through his grogginess I know he knows that I know how important he is to me. Facebook messages where you utter “happy birthday, xyz” is a pretty strong signal of one’s (lack of real) social bond. If someone is special we tend to write them a personalized note.

I suppose a hand-written note would be more meaningful because it is, well, hand-written and physically delivered. A quick message, email or post on Facebook could be seen as being too casual to have much meaning but I believe people who receive digital notes from me are secretly grateful that they aren’t handwritten because they’re at least intelligible.

(Via Om Malik)

All for our kids

I’ve just put our kids to sleep. My wife is at a meeting tonight so it was my chance to read them a bedtime story about a rhino and its compulsion to run everywhere before putting our daughter to bed first.

I had a realisation while I listened to her breathing deeply that I’ve felt coming for a while now: I think parents must go through a phase of their lives where everything is about their kids. It’s not like this is a radical epiphany. People have been commenting on this for, well, a long time but these sorts of things don’t seem real until you finally click.

Sure, we focus on careers, ambitions and personal interests but when it comes down to it, it’s all about them, really. The rest of our lives are mostly a support system for our kids’ young lives and doing the best we can to give them a better life than the life we had growing up.

That doesn’t mean we necessarily had a bad childhood, I think I had a pretty good one and I have lots if good memories. I’d just like our kids to have an even better life so, one day, they can give their children an even better life. That is a pretty good legacy to leave behind.

A reminder of what its all about, at least for me

Wow, what a year this has been. “Challenging” doesn’t quite describe it for me. My business is evolving rapidly and about to take what could potentially be a radical leap in a fairly different direction and while I’m excited about it, it also scares me more than a little (which means it is probably also the right decision). Today has been particularly intense so this video was perfect:

This ad reminded me why I do what I do every day and what it is all about at the end of the metaphorical day. It also reminds me why I shouldn’t do some of the things I do every day either: things like stress about challenges and work so hard that I miss the time I have with my family. I also keep reminding myself to be more present when I spend time with my wife and our kids and not distracted by work or devices that don’t enhance those moments.

As much as I love my devices, when I am using them I am not present with my wife or our kids and, in those moments, they deserve to have me there with them, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Just as I watch this video and see myself in so many of those moments with our kids, I can’t help but remember that my Dad isn’t around to share them with me. Like him, I don’t know how much time I have with my family and that makes the time I do have even more precious.